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Clippers acquire Eric Bledsoe in trade with Grizzlies

Pelicans guard Eric Bledsoe brings the ball up court.
Pelicans point guard Eric Bledsoe brings the ball up court during a game against the Lakers last season.
(Derick Hingle / Associated Press)

With too many guards in their backcourt, contracts on their roster and age amid their rotation, the Clippers on Saturday swung a trade with the hope of solving those problems, in part, by reuniting the team with one of its former draft picks.

The Clippers are trading veteran guards Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo, and center Daniel Oturu, fresh off his rookie season, to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for guard Eric Bledsoe, the team’s 2010 first-round selection, according to a person with knowledge of the trade who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the trade is not expected to become official until Monday.

The trade involves those players only, the person said, and will not include draft picks.

It is a continuation of the intent that has guided the Clippers’ offseason thus far: turning an aging roster younger in hopes that a mix of core veterans and young, developing role players might extend their ability to compete for a championship once Kawhi Leonard recovers from a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, whether that is late in the upcoming season, or for 2022-23.

Bledsoe is not in the same age bracket as the 19-year-old Keon Johnson or 22-year-old Jason Preston, a pair of guards selected in July’s draft. But at 31, he is durable and more than a year younger than Beverley, and four years younger than Rondo.

The trade could be wind up being relatively low risk. In addition to dumping the expiring contracts owed to Beverley and Rondo off their books, the Clippers aren’t locked in long-term with Bledsoe; only $3.9 million of his $19 million salary next season is guaranteed.

His addition was a bet on the belief that the Clippers’ ability to spread the floor with three-point shooting will play to Bledsoe’s strengths by opening driving lanes to the rim. Bledsoe’s 9.3 drives per game led all New Orleans guards (and would have led the Clippers’).. He shot 44.7% on his drives, but more than half ended with a pass, which feeds into coach Tyronn Lue’s desire to create open shots with drives that force a defense to rotate and leave shooters open.

He is also a two-time all-defense honoree, a skillset that will help replace one of Beverley’s key strengths.

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Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points per game last season, his lowest average since his third season, and he shot 49% inside the arc, his lowest percentage since 2017, while his 34% accuracy on three-pointers slightly exceeded his career average. He has been dogged throughout his career by his play in the postseason, when he is a career 44% shooter overall, and 25% on three-pointers.

Beverley ($14.3 million) and Rondo ($7.5 million) were both entering the final year of their respective contracts. The trade trims the team’s bill for the luxury tax from around $125 million next season to about $95 million while also creating a traded-player exception worth $8.3 million and bringing the roster to 14 contracts, not including backup guard Yogi Ferrell’s nonguaranteed deal for next season. Teams are allowed 15 roster spots, in addition to two two-way contracts.

Rondo and Beverley’s expiring deals made each natural trade candidates this offseason, as did Beverley’s history of struggling to remain healthy during four seasons with the Clippers, and Rondo’s failure to improve the team in the postseason, the chief reason why the Clippers traded Lou Williams for the two-time champion in March.

While Rondo was on the roster for only three months, Beverley held a much deeper attachment to the team and its fans, who fed off the guard’s attack-dog defense and chest-thumping confidence.

He was the last player remaining on the team from the franchise-changing trade in 2017 that sent Chris Paul to Houston in exchange for Beverley, Williams and Montrezl Harrell. The trio served as the emotional engine of 2018’s playoff eighth seed that registered a playoff-record 31-point comeback to stun top-seeded Golden State in the first round. A year later, they were also among a group of players who were said to struggle at times to adjust to a starkly different locker-room hierarchy after the arrival of superstars Leonard and Paul George. Beverley also suffered personal setbacks during the 2020 postseason following a strained calf and the death of one of his closest friends.

Last season revealed Beverley’s vulnerabilities — two knee injuries and a broken bone in his hand costing him weeks — but also his unique value to a team that multiple people close to the team felt played harder when Beverley was healthy.

Unable to stay on the court during a first-round playoff series because of matchup issues against Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Beverley was effectively benched the rest of the series. But while some on the team wondered how he would handle Lue’s decision, Beverley did not pout. Instead, he stayed engaged and trusted Lue, and when reinserted into the lineup in the second round his defense on Utah’s Donovan Mitchell was vital to the Clippers’ comeback series victory. His disruptive defense against Phoenix’s Devin Booker helped extend the conference final to six games.

While the move relieves some of the logjam for minutes in the backcourt, it also reduces the number of true centers on the roster to two with Oturu gone. Ivica Zubac and Serge Ibaka, who underwent season-ending back surgery only two months ago, are the only players taller than 6-foot-10 on the roster. But what is the team’s appetite to add depth there immediately? Their first appearance in a conference final hinged on the decision to play smaller, with forwards such as Marcus Morris in the center role.


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